In England, I was told the farther North you go the more you are asked for tea, I have found that this also rings true in Thailand. The farther North you go the more people start to talk to you. My bus trip to Chiang Mai I sat at the front of the bus and had a great conversation, well an attempt at one, with a lady and her family who ran a shop in the local night market and had been picking up orders in Chiang Mai and by the end promising to say that evening at the market. Tuk tuk drivers actually give you directions and I had one nearly guide me to my hotel – no strings attached. Or perhaps and more likely I have gotten braver and found it easier to approach travellers and locals to have a chat or ask directions. It definitely isn’t my Thai.
I spent a day and a bit in Chiang Rai. The night market was hands down the best night market I had been to for food, if only for the reason it was in a giant square with loads of places to sit and watch the entertainment which ran from acoustic guitar pieces to my first lady boy show. Their costumes were great! As always ordering is always an adventure as I try to ask questions – vegetables? Spivey? And the charades ensue. The Hill Tribe Museum while rather small was worth going to. It shared in detail the history of the Opium Trade in Asia and the part played by Western Nations which was quite a lot. The other great thing about Chaing Rai is it’s bus network and the ease at which one can get to lots of different places without taking a tour.
But the main reason to go to Chiang Rai for me was the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. Designed by famous Thai architect Chalermchai Kositipat in 1997 it is modern piece of art and unconventional Buddhist Temple. Mixing in parts modern pop culture with ancient traditions, for me it is a stunning temple, the artwork architecture all of it. The depiction of the underworld and what is, in the artists mind, wrong with our society at one end of the room with people flying on the backs of dragons to reach enlightenment, where the giant Image of Buddha sits at the opposite end of the hall is beautifully painted and still being done, in fact many parts of the grounds are still being worked on and you can see workers laying mosaic designs on walls or painting.
However the temple is best expressed in pictures!